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Kapoor and Sons
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by Jay Seaver

"Fine family reunion"
4 stars

Like a lot of movies where the filmmakers want to both celebrate family and build a story about what kind of stresses it can place on people, "Kapoor and Sons" can swing from one to the other fast enough to make a viewer wonder just what sort of weird compartmentalization these people are capable of. Thankfully, they pull this off better than most, and manage to make one where the last act melodrama is fairly well-earned, even if it does spend a lot of time in zany comedy getting there.

For a while, "Kapoor and Grandsons" seems like it may be a more appropriate title, as it is the hospitalization of Amarjeet "Dadu" Kapoor (Rishi Kapoor) a week or so shy of his 90th birthday that brings his expatriate grandkids home. Rahul (Fawad Khan) is a successful author living in London, while Arjun (Sidharth Malhotra) is in New Jersey, currently bartending (he never sticks with anything very long) and polishing his first novel. After returning home, they both find their way to the house of the beautiful and funny Tia Mallik (Alia Bhatt) - Arjun for a party and Rahul looking to buy a place for an artists' retreat - and she seems to take a shine to both. Despite some issues between the pair in the past, they're mostly glad to see each other and Dadu, although it's clear that the tensions that exist between parents Harsh (Rajat Kapoor) and Sunita (Ratna Pathak) have, if anything, intensified since they last visited.

Dadu initially seems like one of the more tired stock comedy characters - the wacky old guy who swears and acts inappropriate to young women and otherwise horrifies his straight-laced family, but director Shakun Batra and co-writer Ayesha DeVitre see this coming from the very first scene and have his family show that he's always been like this, and he's been at his latest hobby of "rehearsing his death" for weeks. Dadu being this sort of rascal is never meant to shock, so his jokes at least have to be sort of good, if not groundbreaking. Rishi Kapoor does will by the character; he's got the requisite sense of innocent mischief and a nice way of delivering the punchline of a gag by implying that maturity is something he has rather grown out of, though it's not that far a pivot to being a sweet old man.

The issues one generation down are less entertaining, in large part because they seem to get less time. The things Harsh and Sunita fight over are frustratingly abstract, both because the source of their money problems are never spelled out (saying "financial crisis" is becoming an all-too-generic shorthand when a movie needs this sort of thing but doesn't want to make it part of the plot or characters) and because most of the other people involved - Dadu's other son, Sunita's sister with the successful catering business, Harsh's supposed lover - are all off-screen and thus sort of not real; we don't get the entire dynamic. It's unfortunate, because when Rajat Kapoor and especially Ratna Pathak get material later on in the film that comes more from who Harsh and Sunita are and how they relate to their family specifically rather than seeming like it was part of the template, they're quite good. Pathak, in particular, shines when displaying a certain uncertainty when things go well and even when reacting to a certain discovery in a way that could lose the audience (perhaps more in the West compared to India).

It's the brothers and Tia that draw and deserve the most attention, and not just because they're a very good-looking trio. It's a bit of a relief that the filmmakers initially present relatively little tension between them for things out of their control - Arjun may resent that Rahul is the favored child, but that's more an issue with his mother than his brother - which means that any friction between them is more the result of their contrasting personalities and a specific issue or two in their past, and early on, that's rather minimal. They get to have fun bouncing off each other, Dadu, and Tia, with Fawad Khan having a nice way of loosening things up after being the reserved one in a scene. There's a fun rapport between Sidharth Malhotra and Alia Bhatt, in large part because Bhatt is able to play Tia as much funnier for much longer than this character usually is; even when she's pointing out that a sometimes-contentious family is something she hasn't had since 13, Bhatt keeps Tia an impressively upbeat character.

Batra keeps the movie going on the good vibes generated by Dadu, Rahul, Arjun, Tia, Arjun's friends, et al hanging around and mostly having fun for an impressively long stretch; the jokes may be kind of standard but everything from Dadu discovering Internet porn to Arjun and Tia coming up with increasingly goofy dance moves is executed with a grin and feels more like things funny people who like each other do than silly situations that a screenwriter is trying to justify. The turn toward more dramatic material toward the end is occasionally a little shaky - bits are out of the blue and there are actually two "x-amount-of-time later" transitions - but it is mostly built on things that were fairly established before and without retroactively making the audience feel bad for laughing at something.

Even taking those bits into consideration, I enjoyed spending time with the Kapoors; their film is long by Western standards given the relatively long by Western standards given the relative lightness and simplicity of the story, but it seldom drags and often amuses.

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originally posted: 03/26/16 14:27:56
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